Archive for March, 2006

Pure Tripe in Triplicate

Now I don’t happen to agree with Blind Melon, for instance, that three is a magic number, but it is certainly a most effective one for ordering one’s ideas. Examples:

Past, Present, Future;
Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité;
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness;
Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter;
Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis;
Too Hot, Too Cold, Just Right;

and, as one Dublin coffee house has it, Small, Tall and, eh, Grande.

When someone starts paragraphs with ‘Fourth’, or ‘Fifth’, we can be reasonably sure that they are over-egging the pudding.

Another example:

Just as there are three lions on an English football shirt, one can discern three phases in Irish attitudes to the English national football team.

The first, which can be called the colonial phase, is when the Irish person wants England to lose, because the team is a kind of symbol of the awful British Empire.

The second, which can be called the nationalist phase, is when the Irish person is conscious of the narrow-mindedness inherent in the first phase, is proud of his own national team, and recognises the English team as just another national team in the great symphony of global football. Given its proximity to Ireland, and the intertwined history of both islands, especially in football, the Irish person wishes to see the English team do well.

The third phase, call it the liberationist phase, is when the Irish person no longer concerns himself with the specific relationship between Ireland and England, and either adopts a stance of vague indifference, or freely joins with the rest of the world in wanting England to lose.

Og On The Blog

Before blogging, Ogden Nash understood the blogger’s condition:

‘O all ye exorcizers come and exorcize now, and ye clergymen draw nigh and clerge,
For I wish to be purged of an urge.
It is an irksome urge, compounded of nettles and glue,
And it is turning all my friends back into acquaintances, and all my acquaintances into people who look the other way when I heave into view.
It is an indication that my mental buttery is butterless and my mental larder lardless,
And it consists not of “Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” but of “I know you’ve heard this one because I told it to you myself, but I’m going to tell it to you again regardless,”
Yes I fear I am living beyond my mental means.
When I realize that it is not only anecdotes that I reiterate but what is far worse, summaries of radio programs and descriptions of cartoons in newspapers and magazines.
I want to resist but I cannot resist recounting the bright sayins of celebrities that everybody already is familiar with every word of; I want to refrain but cannot refrain from telling the same audience on two successive evenings the same little snatches of domestic gossip about people I used to know that they have never heard of.
When I remember some titlating episode of my childhood I figure that if it’s worth narrating once it’s worth narrating twice, in spite of lackluster eyes and dropping jaws,
And indeed I have now worked my way backward from titllating episodes in my own childhood to titillating episodes in the childhood of my parents or even my parents-in-laws,
And what really turns my corpuscles to ice,
I carry around clippings and read them to people twice.
And I know what I am doing while I am doing it and I don’t want to do it but I can’t help doing it and I am just another Ancient Mariner,
And the prospects for my future social life couldn’t possibly be barrener.
Did I tell you that the prospects for my future social life couldn’t be barrener?’

Name That Country

I see via my beloved Libertad Digital that Mariano Rajoy has told Zapatero to get up on the podium and name one country in the world that’s made up of various nations. After that, he has to name the footballer who played in Manchester, Merseyside and North London derbies. And the composer of The Days of Pearly Spencer. If he gets those right, he wins a hamper.

Table quizzes in the post-mobile phone age are shite. Too much cheating.

Brit Was Really Nothing

How can one fail to be a Morrissey fan when he comes out with things like this:

“The Brits are ghastly and there has never been a time when they haven’t got it wrong. For me to ever accept a Brit, well, I never would. It would be like Laurence Olivier being happy getting a TV Times award”

Runs, Rabbits, Runs

At the weekends, I often go running down country roads and lanes. As any long-distance runner will tell you, one of the things that may stop you from putting on your trainers and heading off is the prospect of sheer boredom. It’s all very well for urban dwellers to talk about preserving the countryside so that future generations can enjoy it, but the truth is that when you’re there, in the thick of it, one green field with a few cows surrounded by hedges is pretty much the same as the next. There is no enduring aesthetic delight in having a field when you’re out herding cows, shovelling dung and cutting silage.

City dwellers think of ‘the countryside’ as a type of refuge from all the demonic entanglements of city life: work, traffic, foreigners… and it is therefore somewhat understandable that they should seek to keep it immaculate. People who actually live there, and I mean those born and reared there, often known as culchies, don’t actually think of the countryside as the countryside at all. They just think of it as ‘here’. This point is often missed.

If you think of Country Roads by John Denver, or Country Boy by Glen Campbell, the ‘country’ evoked is basically what the city is not. These are notions of ‘the country’ developed in urban centres. So when I hear people talking about preserving the countryside, what they are really talking about is preserving the counterpoint to urban life. This is, among other things, another way of saying that you should try and preserve urban life as it is. I think this may be what Raymond Williams wrote about, but as I haven’t read the essays in question, I can’t be too sure.

I am sympathetic, then, to Sinn Fein’s opposition to rural planning policy proposals (via Balrog.) It may well be an instance of urban dwellers imposing their own designs, for the motivations explored above, on rural areas. But I can only agree up to a point.

Back to the run. One of the things that helps stave off boredom when out running is the dwellings on display. Many new residences, bungalow or not, are the lurid manifestations of their owner’s ego. Their rigorous, almost pathological symmetry and bric-a-brac ornamentation (statues of geese with gilded beaks wearing trousers is one example) could be interpreted as a crude homage to the landlords who once controlled the land where their ancestors worked. Those familiar with a particular area may be able to discern the local history behind the buildings, where one neighbour sought to outdo the next in his vulgar elaborations.

A point has now been reached where a peculiar style has been developed: a disturbing amalgam of Southfork and Footballer’s Wives. If you breathe in deep enough, you can get a faint whiff of cream leather. Images of the country, generated in urban centres, are what get imposed on the landscape in reality. In fact, this type of dwelling is like a miniature illustration of how most urban dwellers think of the city’s relation to the country: a big lump of concrete surrounded by copious swathes of unused green grass: the grass is there to be surveyed, but not much use for anything else. Apart from running past in a pair of Nikes.

Keepin’ it real with packaged ideas and burgers

Here is a gimmicky piece in the Economist about US public intellectuals and how far ahead they are of their European counterparts. It is kind of embarrassing to read. It cites Swift, but doesn’t really know what to do with him. It talks about ideas as if they were burgers. It is like saying that America has better food than Europe because they are the most innovative burger producers in the world.

In this review in the New Statesman, soi-disant radical Terry Eagleton notes the following about what it means to talk about intellectuals if you are British:

When they use the word “intellectual” they usually preface it with “so-called” or “soi-disant“, just in case they might be unwittingly paying their enemies the compliment of believing they are clever.

If I had to spend all day reading intellectuals, I’d look for the ones who said funny things. Not the ones who spout guff that leads the Economist writer to say this:

And America’s policy intellectuals have a talent for packaging their ideas in provocative ways—for declaring not just that the cold war is winding down but that history is ending, not just that regional tensions are rising but that the world is entering a clash of civilisations.

Yeah, me hole. Gimme five more examples then. (The ‘Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus one’, or whatever that Robert Kagan one was didn’t really hit home. And it’s becoming pretty clear that history isn’t ending. The clash of civilisations one is a bit more complex, because it seems that there are quite a few people quite interested in willing this particular packaged idea into a reality. Same way as people got into the way of shouting Whasssaawwpp? over the intercom.)

Another bit from Eagleton:

The role of the intellectual, so it is said, is to speak truth to power. Noam Chomsky has dismissed this pious tag on two grounds. For one thing, power knows the truth already; it is just busy trying to conceal it. For another, it is not those in power who need the truth, but those they oppress.

Perhaps this explains Chomsky’s appearance in Tower Records among the oppressed of Dublin a couple of months back as I went hunting for a copy of I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson. Cracking album. Cracking guitarist. Richard Thompson I mean. There he was, the world’s most public intellectual. At least I think he was there, there were a crowd of non-office workers surrounding a desk holding copies of Hegemony or Survival.

Anyway, Chomsky has a point here. I hate it when people talk about speaking truth to power. They sound awful prissy. They might as well be talking about ‘keeping it real’, or some other nonsense.

I’m bored.

Mural Activities

Speaking of rats, I see they’ve replaced a mural of Billy Wright with one of George Best. Good move, I reckon.

Cat smells rat

Or something like that. OK, cat smells rat is good. Rat smells rat? hmmm…

Update: the cat’s tale is worth checking out.

Canine Considerations

I know a Doberman Pinscher who doesn’t bark at you when you approach his residence. If he sees you first, he sneaks up beside you and gently bites your hand. Doberman lovers and people inclined to generalise will enjoy Troublemakers and the Pitbull Paradox by Malcolm Gladwell.

Masculinity a Man-Size Tissue?

Whenever I hear the question ‘What Is A Man?’, I see the Four Tops flying around a night-time skyscraper scene, sporting white tuxedoes. I have no idea if this video exists in reality.

Despite the never-decreasing pile of unread books, I’m contemplating buying this here book. (Read an extract here; a Times review here; a slightly barking Town Hall review here.)

The author went to extraordinary lengths to disguise herself as a man, went and lived as one, then sought to answer the question asked by Levi Stubbs and co.

Without wishing to second-guess the book’s conclusions, it seems that there is no such thing as unadorned manliness: it, as much as prancing around in a purple overcoat with a chrysanthemum in one’s lapel, is a persona used to negotiate social circumstance. Denunciations of Brokeback Mountain for corrupting American symbols of manliness (the Rape of the Marlboro Man, no less) are ultimately doomed, themselves a symptom of the cracking façade of ‘being a man’.

Last night on Eastenders, the directors sought to illustrate the feminisation of mob boss and all-round nasty piece of work Johnny Allen by putting him in a Beverly Sisters-pink cashmere sweater. This was in sharp contrast to the traditional black leathers worn by the simian Mitchell brothers.

Er, that’s it. A disparate collection of thoughts. I can’t be bothered trying to order them manfully. Oh, and here’s a piece on castrati.

I on Twitter

March 2006